Common SEM Mistakes That Blow My Mind

Having worked in both a freelance & agency capacity in Search Engine Marketing, it has often been my responsibility to take an existing SEM that an advertiser is unhappy with (for a variety of reasons), and “make it work”. Sometimes, admittedly, the campaign I am taking over isn’t necessarily all that bad– more frequently, however, are the cases where I take one look at someone’s AdWords account & just know I’m going to have to start from scratch. Below I’ve gathered some common SEM mistakes that have simply astounded me– my hope is certainly not to embarrass anyone, but to help the newcomers as much as I can.

Search? Display? Hell, Let’s Do Both…

For the life of me, I cannot understand why someone would try to optimize for the search & display networks on Google under the same campaign. This is a major no-no, for the newbies out there. For one, they function entirely differently on Google’s side; which means, of course, that they should be managed separately on yours. Sure, both depend on keywords, Quality Scores, and a degree of relevance– but, that’s essentially where the similarities end. Do yourself a favor, remember: search campaigns should have ad groups that consist of tight, closely-related terms. Display campaigns can consist of more broad keywords (in fact, narrowly-targeted campaigns likely won’t receive much traffic) and interest/category-based targeting.

Overloaded Ad Groups

As previously mentioned, ad groups on the search network should consist of keywords with a very specific, narrow focus; with ad copy and landing page to match. I can’t tell you how often I see bundles of dozens or even hundreds of keyword phrases that don’t belong anywhere near each other in an account. This is hurting your Quality Score, and likely driving up costs while extremely depleting your conversion rate.


Look, I admit– I utilize broad match in nearly every campaign I manage. It’s effective at finding a large audience, plain & simple. But, the idea of broad match is to be able to find out more specifically what your audience is searching for to capitalize on that knowledge. Take advantage of the Search Query Report (SQR), and create phrase or exact match ad groups for more bid control and maximum effectiveness

Inappropriate DKI

DKI (Dynamic Keyword Insertion) in ad copy can be an effective tool; however, depending on the keyword or phrase used, and based on match-type settings, it can also be a nightmare. DKI works perfectly in exact match with short keywords or kw phrases; for example, if I owned Joe’s Towing, using Contact {KeyWord:Joe’s Towing} would be a great, attractive headline. IF, that is, I were using exact match. If I were using broad match, however, and someone searched “joe’s towing sucks”, my headline could end up looking like this: Contact Joe’s Towing Sucks.

Not. Good. So, hey, just be careful out there.

Other Common SEM Mistakes

Hmmm…so many….but since I’m already at 500 words, maybe I’ll save some for another piece. At a high level, bidding every keyword at the same price, not utilizing sitelink or phone extensions where applicable, failure to conduct ad copy & landing page testing– yes, those are all very real things I see frequently.

For those of you out there, what are some of yours? I’m curious to see what else people are doing that makes you shake your head. Let me know in the comments below, and I can include yours in Part 2!